I really enjoyed this book. Elverskog's writing is accessible and enjoyable, even if, like me, you might not know very much about the Qing empire or MI really enjoyed this book. Elverskog's writing is accessible and enjoyable, even if, like me, you might not know very much about the Qing empire or Mongolian history in the modern period. In it, Elverskog writes the history of empire from the margins, focusing not on what the imperial center wanted its domains to be, but on how the subjects themselves thought of their communities and their relation to political power.
While his argument is relevant to Mongolia as a whole, he is especially interested in Inner Mongolia under the Qing banner system. He argues that the process of reinventing Mongol communal life occurred not in a specific year, but worked itself out over decades, even centuries, of negotiation between imperial center and periphery. He also presents a significant revision to the standard narrative of Buddhism in Mongolia; showing how Mongol authors imagined their involvement first in a unique Mongolian Buddhist community, and then in an ecumenical Buddhist space encompassing the Chinese and Tibetans.
My one criticism is that Elverskog relies heavily on three centuries of historical writings to show how Mongol ideas about community underwent change--but does not extensively discuss the patronage of these works, how they were copied or disseminated, or how wide an audience they enjoyed. While some of this information may be impossible to discover, I think a deeper analysis of how textual history operated in the wider cultural milieu would have strengthened the argument. ...more
Full disclosure: I study at Indiana University and have taken classes with Professor DeWeese. To me, this book is one of the best ways to experiencesFull disclosure: I study at Indiana University and have taken classes with Professor DeWeese. To me, this book is one of the best ways to experiences his enormous erudition if you are unable to hear him speak in person. That said, it is somewhat misleadingly named, since this volume is at once more focused, and infinitely more expansive in its scholarship than you might expect. More focused, in that his major concern is a single eccentric figure--Baba Tükles, a hairy Sufi missionary who survives a trial by fire in the court of Özbek Khan--and his continued re-use in geneological, historical, epic, and folkloric materials in western and central Eurasia.
At the same time, the publishers could easily have re-titled the work "Conversion and Native Religion in Central Eurasia" without argument from the readers. DeWeese considers not only the religious conversion of the Golden Horde--the northwesternmost part, or ulus of the Mongol empire, but nearly every well known instance of conversion in Inner and Central Asian history--including the Manichaeism of the Uyghurs, the Judaism of the Khazars, the Islamization of the Bulghars, and more. Even more impressively, DeWeese supports this wide-ranging and insightful survey with reference to all the major European scholarship on Central Asia, whether in Russian, German and French, as well as to primary source materials and secondary works in Persian and many Turkic languages.
Like other reviewers have mentioned, this makes the text quite a challenging read. However, I would say that his writing style is usually not only readable, but also engaging, and that most of the footnotes are optional for a non-academic reader.
My only disappointment is in his neglect not of folklore, but of established academic tools for the systematic study of folklore. I think this work's comparison of narrative motifs and motif complexes would have benefited from references to Stith Thomson's famous Motif Index, and the ATU Tale-Type Index. This is not only because he argues that certain motifs (particularly when they occur together) are characteristic of Inner Asian religion without acknowledging that many also occur well outside this geographical area, but also because he himself has done an enormous amount of classificatory work. He provides, for example, a table comparing narrative elements of various versions of the Idige epic--most of which have numbers in the Motif Index. But since he does not use these numbers, much of the comparative value of his findings (for himself and other scholars) is foregone.
This, however, does not detract from the contributions of the work. As a thorough and exquisitely well-researched treatment on Islamization in central Eurasia, the book really has no equal. ...more
Despite the broad, and broadly historical nature of his book's title, Kapstein takes on a number of highly specific issues in Tibetan Buddhism. RatherDespite the broad, and broadly historical nature of his book's title, Kapstein takes on a number of highly specific issues in Tibetan Buddhism. Rather than a single cohesive argument, he presents a number of discrete chapters in three sections: I. Conversion and Narrative, II. Sources of Contestation, and III. Myth, Memory, and Revelation.
Of the three, Part I is most concerned with the history of Tibet's adoption of Buddhism. Interesting points here are reflections on the role of China in the historical and legendary accounts of Buddhism in Tibet's imperial age, the possible role of the plague (known as Justinian's plague in the West), in shaping the emphasis of religious discourse, and the uses of The Testament of Bha for historians.
In the later sections of the book, however, he turns to far more scholastic and philosophical modes of analysis. Here, Kapstein clearly demonstrates an extensive familiarity not only with his Tibetan source material, which he quotes at length, but also the major developments in the European history of philosophy. Discussions which I felt were particularly valuable were Kapstein's explanation on what might constitute "cannon" and "apocrypha" in Tibetan Buddhism and his exploration of sincerity, fraud, and the important role played by treasure texts.
Because of this diversity, the book may appeal to and be helpful for a wide variety of scholars of Tibet, Buddhism, and even general religious studies. However, as many of the chapters began as articles published elsewhere, the exposition connecting them is very sparse. This means that general readers and non-specialists will lack the necessary context or background knowledge to appreciate the bulk of Kapstein's scholarship (I count myself among this group of readers.) I wouldn't recommend it, then, unless you have already read widely in the subject. ...more
As you can see in the official description for this book, Martin A. Mills undertakes a major revision of the established literature on monasticism inAs you can see in the official description for this book, Martin A. Mills undertakes a major revision of the established literature on monasticism in Tibetan Buddhism. This is rooted in his own field research conducted in Ladakh, and in particular during months living at the Lingshed monastery.
His major accomplishment in this book is demonstrating the extensive social ties which remain between the local village households and monks, even after the latter take their vows and join the monastic community. This guiding concern begins with his observations about architecture and embodied cultural practices, which are markedly similar both in the monastery and in the home. He then builds on this analysis by examining key points in the ritual calendar of Linghsed, and the ways in which monastic actors interact with oracles, healers, and the local villagers. Finally, he turns his attention to the very highest authorities in Gelukpa Buddhism, the incarnate lamas.
Throughout the book, his analysis is tempered by an awareness of his own limitations as an observer and interpreter of Tibetan Buddhism, and supported by extensive, critical engagement with other scholars. Anyone with an interest in Buddhism, Tibet, or lived religion will be able to appreciate this book, though some readers may find the heavily philosophical passages less relevant. A particularly enjoyable feature of the book was the inclusion of sections from his field notes, which were lively and helped to personalize the inhabitants of Lingshed for the reader. Also included are a number of black-and-white photographs taken by the author ...more
This book, an ethnography of Muslim lifeways in the city of Turkistan based on research conducted in the 1990s, does at least one excellent thing. ItThis book, an ethnography of Muslim lifeways in the city of Turkistan based on research conducted in the 1990s, does at least one excellent thing. It shows, conclusively, that Kazakstan was not converted to a superficial veneer of Islam, under which substantial survivals from 'shamanism' persisted unchanged. Instead, he demonstrates persuasively that Muslimness (musılmanshılıq) is not only normative in the local context of Kazakstan, but also deeply affective and present in the lives of many Kazaks.
Given this, it seems unfair to judge the book according to wistful statements about the roads less travelled, but I was left with a deep sense of dissatisfaction with his treatment of a number of topics. His concept of sacred geography and the spacial inherence of religion were promising, but underdeveloped. This is especially disappointing given that he references Humphrey's work on the Daur Mongols, but does not engage with her treatment of 'chiefly' vs. 'shamanic' geographies. If he had, this would have made his analysis of how Sufi shrines define the landscape far more perceptive. Likewise, he skirts around the gendered nature of religious behavior and perceptions about the varied spiritual capacities of men and women at different stages of life. Additionally, his comments about women adopting healing practices as a compensatory response to social marginalization suffer from a lack of information about the roles played by (or barred to) women in other aspects of Kazak society.
As it fills a void and has some genuinely well-conceived sections, this book makes a valuable contribution to the study of religion, and particularly Islam, in Central Asia. However it was also hampered by missed opportunities for deep engagement with some of its main themes. ...more
A fascinating and critically informed ethnography of the Telengits, based on field research conducted in the Republic of Altai by the author in the 19A fascinating and critically informed ethnography of the Telengits, based on field research conducted in the Republic of Altai by the author in the 1990s. It examines the influence of many trends common to post-Socialist and post-Soviet contexts within and without Russia--such as the role of Houses of Culture, civil society organizations, nationalist movements, and the growth of tourism. As such it will be of interest to anyone working in Russian, East European, or Central/Inner Asian contemporary studies.
At the same time, Halemba's major focus is upon mobility, ritual, and ways of knowing. Her examination of the landscape of Altai and its significance to its inhabitants engages deeply with other anthropological work on mobile pastoralism in Inner Asia, especially Caroline Humphrey's writings on Mongolia. Complementing this approach is her examination of religion in Altai, which contrasts the efforts of nationalists and intellectuals to establish Buddhism as a source of unity and institutional authority with the flexible, debated, and ever-changing practices sustained by the Telengits themselves. While critical of the -ism attached to shamans and their practices, Halemba nonetheless examines the activities of shamans (kam) and other 'people who know' in great depth. For this reason, those interested in comparative religion will also find this book valuable and informative. ...more
A fantastisk book, as the Norwegians might say. Crackling prose, characters that are both vivid and vulnerable, and a wicked sense of humor all combinA fantastisk book, as the Norwegians might say. Crackling prose, characters that are both vivid and vulnerable, and a wicked sense of humor all combine in this book. I couldn't recommend it more!...more